Opinion

What are we waiting for? Nurse Practitioners can fill gaps in our ailing health-care system

Nov. 13 to 19 marks Nurse Practitioner (NP) Week in Ontario, a time to both celebrate and increase awareness of the professional skills they bring to every sector of the health-care system.

We all know that Ontario’s health-care system is in a serious daily struggle to meet the needs of those in hospitals, long-term care homes, public health and the community. A record number of Ontarians do not have access to a primary-care provider, our emergency departments are overcrowded and at a crisis point, and those needing long-term care or home care are doomed to wait for far too long.

NPs are a key, underused resource that have the potential to alleviate many of these challenges.

Recently, the Ontario government announced it would fund up to 225 additional NPs to work in provincial long-term care homes. Unfortunately, as with much of what this government does, the funding will take three years to implement, and 225 NPs is far too few to truly make a difference in the province’s 627 long-term care homes.

Residents of long-term care homes are generally medically complex and would greatly benefit from the clinical skills and care that NPs provide. A decade ago, many of these patients would have been in hospital, not long-term care. The government’s plan to transfer alternate-level-of-care patients out of hospital and into long-term care makes it more vital than ever that these fragile patients have access to a high level of care.

For Ontarians who lack access to primary care, NPs can fill the gap.

For Ontarians who lack access to primary care – a key part of the health-care system – NPs can fill the gap. Their years of extra education give them skills and expertise to be the primary-care provider. They have a vast scope of practice that allows them to offer many clinical services that family doctors provide – they can examine, diagnose, order tests and refer patients to specialists. They are licensed to write prescriptions.

A study commissioned by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions shows just how underutilized NPs truly are. The research found that NPs face limited employment opportunities, inappropriate levels of remuneration, work under outdated funding models, experience a lack of interprofessional collaboration are impacted by both legislative and regulatory barriers.

The lead researcher notes that Canada has just 14 NPs per 100,000 Canadians, one-fifth the per-capita supply of NPs in the U.S. Evidence shows that NPs improve access to holistic, cost-effective and high-quality health care that also reduces wait times and costs.

Right now, NPs could solve much of what is ailing health care. It’s past time to deploy the power of Nurse Practitioners. What are we waiting for?

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2 Comments
  • Cliff Ranger says:

    With Nurse Practitioners able to assist in solving the access to care issue, and at the same time provide quality health care, why don’t we have them where they are obviously needed? Maybe instead of debating the value that Nurse Practitioners can bring to health care, we should be tackling the reasons why such skillful and talented individuals are being kept out of it.

  • Shirley Shea says:

    Yes, I agree we need more RNs and NPs especially in LTC. Their critical thinking is key to managing patients with multiple illnesses who are frail and aging. PSWs do not have the medical training needed or the training to deal with dementia. RPNs are mostly used in staffing LTC positions. More NPs are definitely needed in LTC as doctors are in short supply. Our population is aging and we need to combat that challenge by planning now to deal with this Health Care Crisis.

Authors

Angela Preocanin

Contributor

Angela Preocanin, RN, is the First Vice-President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association.

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